Hoops show bottle as O'Neill sees red
SHAMROCK RVS 1, ST PATRICK'S ATH 0
HE had to watch a large portion of the game from the back of the Tallaght Stadium press box, but Michael O'Neill was pleased with what he saw as his Shamrock Rovers team returned to the top of the table.
The Hoops boss was sent off for kicking a bottle, frustrated with what he saw as a meddling display from referee Dave McKeon and his linesman Marc Douglas.
He maintained the lines of communication via a team of runners who kept themselves fit by ferrying messages to and from Andy Myler -- the stand-in assistant in the absence of Trevor Croly who resigned in midweek -- as on the pitch his side defended the lead they'd taken through Gary Twigg's excellent goal in reasonable comfort.
St Pat's were left disappointed they didn't secure the draw they needed to keep them on top, but Pete Mahon's team looked tired after their Europa League defeat in Iceland on Thursday, the long trip home and the short turnaround.
The former UCD boss had criticised the home club for their lack of flexibility in moving the game and while he was at pains to say that Rovers had been the better side, he was far from happy with the timing as well as losing their first league game in 15.
He has to pick his players up for Thursday's return leg at Richmond Park against IBV -- to whom they trail 1-0 -- while the Hoops go to the Brandywell on Friday for another massive league game.
Given the week they had, O'Neill was delighted with his team's display.
The team had a clear-the-air meeting last Sunday and the manager reckons that any talk of a crisis in the aftermath of Croly's resignation was overblown.
"It was important we won the day," he said. "It was a great performance, particularly in the second half, and we scored a great goal to win the game from Gary Twigg.
"We deserved to win today, there's no doubt about that.
"You can't influence what people want to do. Trevor made his decision and I felt more for the players.
"They felt more let down by it than I did, but he had his reasons.
"That's football, people come and go all the time, it happens.
"There's a lot of hysteria around the club, but it's all coming from people outside the club, to be honest. At the end of the day, we're top of the league and we won the Setanta Cup.
"If that's not good enough for people, then that's not good enough for people."
Twigg's strike was one to savour, deciding a match that was an advert for summer football.
The sun was shining, the crowd was big and the football was competitive.
With the game poised on a knife-edge after a tight 52 minutes, Ronan Finn grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, surging into the penalty area after a long series of passes that saw the Saints chasing shadows.
Finn fed Twigg, who ignored his appeals to return the ball and opted to play a neat one-two with Ciaran Kilduff -- before his neat finish from 10 yards gave Gary Rogers no chance.
Both sides had had chances in a toughly contested first period that saw four players booked in the opening 14 minutes.
Derek Doyle had a shot go straight at Alan Mannus after good work from Daryl Kavanagh, before the striker himself hit the outside of the post with a low effort.
Rovers had their chances too, Finn had a shot fly across the face of goal, while Rogers had to be at his best to deny Enda Stevens at his near post.
Twigg's strike stunned the Saints and they wilted in the heat as the hosts took over, despite their manager's dismissal.
Billy Dennehy might have done better after a neat one-two with Twigg and he then mishit a shot after more good play from the Scottish striker, who was dropped at Sligo last week.
Substitute Dean Kelly just missed the target from a Dennehy cross as Mahon emptied the bench in an attempt to spark a fightback.
Shane McFaul went closest with a header from Doyle's 90th-minute corner, but that was the best they could muster as the Hoops held on to go back on top.
"I think the best team won," Mahon admitted. "For half an hour they were much better. We came back again towards the end but it was difficult for us."
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- A Mannus; Sullivan, Sives, Oman, Stevens; McCabe (Kavanagh 86), Rice, Finn, Dennehy; Kilduff (Kelly 70), Twigg (McCormack 80).
ST PATRICK'S ATH -- Rogers; Pender, Shortall, E McMillan, Bermingham; Murphy (D McMillan 74), Bradley (McFaul 59), Mulcahy (Daly 80), Doyle; Kavanagh, North.
REF -- D McKeon.